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Sporting success at the national level of incalculable value

Saturday, September 08, 2018

It's not by accident that football is the globe's most popular sport.

To begin with, it's cheap and easy to play. A bit of land space, even a street corner, a group of boys, or girls, a ball and there's a game on. Even bare-footed and shirtless, those who play football will still find joy, satisfaction and camaraderie.

In Jamaica, and indeed globally, the game has long served to build harmony and ease stress.

In this country's socially and economically depressed communities, social workers, community leaders and political representatives have long found football to be a useful tool in reducing, even eliminating tension and violence among unemployed, frustrated youth.

Those who witnessed it, recall with something akin to wonder, the use of football in bringing lasting peace between politically tribalised and warring communities in Trench Town and Western Kingston in the late 1990s to early 2000s.

They will undoubtedly be remembered for many other things, but for that achievement we hold that the lead political representatives in those communities at the time, Dr Omar Davies and Mr Edward Seaga, should forever be honoured. They kept their ears to the ground, their fingers to the pulse of their people, and healed with football.

Of course, it's not just football. All sport can have that effect.

That capacity to bring harmony and healing was recognised by Mr Chris Samuda, president of the Jamaica Olympic Association, at the recent St Thomas Football Association awards ceremony. Sport, Mr Samuda pointed out, “establishes common ground for social cohesion of communities”.

Dr Gavin Bellamy, general manager of Serge Island Farms, underlined the argument: “Football is not just a game; it is a medium to foster community relations, and to build confidence and discipline in the players, and provide a constructive outlet for our young (people) to be gainfully engaged.”

It goes beyond that since, as Mr Samuda noted, “communities don't exist in isolation” but form part of a nation, readily bound together by sport. Who will forget the national pride when Jamaica qualified for the 1998 FIFA World Cup and the shared joy of gold medal success at the Olympics and other major games.

So that when the nation excels at football and wider sport, it becomes easy for communities to not only celebrate but to be drawn together to play, with all the positive spinoffs already mentioned. Obviously then, quite apart from the economic benefits of professional sport in the modern world, there is great social gain when the national team performs well.

All the more reason for stakeholders to heed the call for help by Jamaica Football Federation President Michael Ricketts for the national women's team, the Reggae Girls, who played such outstanding football in progressing to next month's Concacaf Women's Championships; and for the men's team, the Reggae Boyz, who begin their campaign in the Concacaf Nations League tomorrow.

It will serve us all to lend a helping hand.